This interview with museum owner Chang Yang Fa is the first in an occasional series where LaToya will be talking to people who have jobs that are a toy collector's dream come true!
Whether you collect cars, trains, dolls, bears or something else entirely, how many times have you looked at your collection and thought "I need a museum to store all this"? Well, Chang Yang Fa of Singapore genuinely does need a museum to store his toy collection. And luckily, he has one.
On March 5th 2007, Engineering Consultant Chang opened Singapore's MINT Museum of Toys where there are over 5,000 items on display at any one time, all of which belong to him. And what's on show is barely ten percent of the 100,000+ items his collection consists of. Those that are not on display are in safe storage, awaiting their turn in the museum's display cabinets.
Having been a collector for more than 30 years, Chang tells us he decided to open the MINT Museum because his collection had grown so big that he would like to share it with the public and collectors worldwide. "It's so much nicer," he says, "for them to see the real thing than to just read about it in books."
Indeed, as Chang continues, with such a huge number of toys in his possession, what he actually has is "many collections within a collection." There's a diversity to the items in the MINT Museum of Toys that you won't find matched at many - or perhaps any - other toy museums in the world.
"What we try to do here is position ourselves as one of the best collections in the world in terms of diversity and depth," Chang says. "Typically if you go to a museum in Japan, for example, Yokohama, the majority of what they have is Japanese, in London or Edinburgh, you'll find mostly English toys. If you go to Nuremburg, you'll find German. We have toys from more than 40 countries at last count."
Among these are such wonders as the largest collections of Dan Dare toys, Door of Hope dolls and one of the largest collections of Batman items in the world, the latter including a tinplate Commissioner Gordon's car model that's the only example known to exist. There's also one of the largest Disneyana collections on the planet. And with toys on show stretching back over 100 years in age, Commissioner Gordon's car is far from being the only unique item in the museum. Two of the museum's finest jewels are a pair of tumbling acrobat toys made in Germany in around 1840, a male and female set. The female is, again, the only one that has ever been seen.
Part of The MINT Museum's vast display areas.
There are space robots - enough to stage a full-on earth invasion - teddy bears and English lead toys including items by Crescent, Johillco and Britains. Among the Britains items is a 15-foot long Royal Procession model, MINT in its box and one of just five known sets. Britains collectors can also salivate over the prototype Trojan soldiers, among other examples of Britains and Herald products.
For diecast fans, there are vast numbers of Matchbox, Corgi and Dinky - including Chang's first ever Matchbox car - as well as exotic brands like Mercury and Gama. And, aptly enough, there's also one of the largest collections of Japanese anime cartoon character toys in the world. Oh, and if, heaven forbid, you should feel like looking at something other than toys, there's also Beatles memorabilia, including a signed photograph and an ultra-rare autographed record of Please Please Me, plus a collection of over 200 enamel signs dating back to 1880 and one of the largest collections of vintage tin boxes in the world.
"We have a lot of enamel signs and tin boxes related to biscuits and sweets," Chang tells us, "because these tie in with the toys. For example, there is a 1940's Carr's biscuit box shaped like a double-decker bus called "London Motor Bus" made by Chad Valley. What they did was add clockwork to this, so it became a toy."
All of which should give you a pretty good picture of the aforementioned breadth of Chang's collection. "We are planning to publish some books on toys," he adds. "If you look at all the books, they tend to be different collectors publishing books together. We have enough to fill one book, for example on Disneyana, on our own, without any other contributors at all."
Indeed, Chang estimates that he would need a museum ten times the size of the present one to exhibit everything he owns. "But then you would have visual overload, I guess. Better to rotate the exhibits and make it more interesting for visitors. By the end of this month, Singapore with have the Formula One racing, for example. We'll have a display of racing cars including 1950's Scalextric in original boxes."
The museum's award-winning design is clearly evident in this shot of the exterior.
The museum building itself is another argument against enlargement, given how carefully the current award-winning museum has been designed - and how stunning it looks. Designed by SCDA Architects of Singapore, it won the 2008 Cityscape Architectural Award in Dubai for the Tourism, Travel and Transport - Built category and the Chicago Athenaeum International Architecture Award for 2007. Open all year round except on Christmas and Chinese New Year, it features seven floors. There is a basement wine bar restaurant (where part of the enamel sign collection is on display) and a museum shop on the ground floor. Levels two to five house the exhibits and the rooftop seventh floor is another wine bar with the rest of the enamel signs on display.
"Since almost everything in the collection is MINT in its box, originally we wanted to call ourselves Mint In Box," Chang laughs, "but Universal who made the Men in Black movie didn't like the idea of us using the acronym MIB." As such, he and his brand consultants settled on just plain MINT - which actually stands for Moment of Imagination and Nostalgia with Toys."
So from his thousands of toys, does Chang have a favourite? "No favourite," he says. "Everything I bought I liked. It's like my children - no two are the same, you can't choose between them. "
Chang's collection is still growing, as he's still happily adding to it. So what does he think will be the most collectable of modern toys? "We have a Marklin Harry Potter Limited Edition train set," he says. "Tamagotchi too! They had a great social impact in Japan." Some of Nintendo's games are another favourite as, he says, they changed the entire approach to toy making.
"I think that it's difficult to say," he continues. "The world has changed so much. Toy production is now centralised to China. It's not like before when individual countries were producing toys unique to their own land. Now it's so generic what you can buy from Johannesburg to New York City. What makes it worse is that certain toy manufacturers make 'special editions' becoming more like a collectable than a toy."
He is, however, confident that the demand for collectable toys will remain strong. "What's for sure is that the market for vintage toys is vibrant despite the financial crisis." But, he adds, with toys it's never all about the money. "For me, I've always said that most people buy shares or bonds to make money, not for fun. Whatever the value, you buy a toy it's for fun!"
The MINT Museum and café can be found at 26 Seah Street, Singapore 188382. They are open daily from 9.30am to 6.30pm all year round except on Christmas and Chinese New Year. For more information, visit www.eMINT.com, call +65 6339 0660 (museum) or +65 6339 6266 (café) or eMail [email protected].
Pictures copyright SCDA Architects.